In the sixty years since it went on sale, the classic Mini has appeared in many forms. Hardly any have been stranger, or faster, than the amazing Mini Evo, created and developed in the south of Scotland by racing driver Allan McDonald, who competes in it at hillclimbs from Devon to Perthshire and, once a year, in Northern Ireland. Here is the story of an ingenious man and his wonderful machine.
Why a Mini?
Long before the Mini Evo was invented, Allan raced motorbikes for 17 years. He had a lot of success, including victory in the Manx Grand Prix, but also spent “a very long time” in hospital. Having had enough of this, he switched to banger racing in a Mini. His first road car was a Mini and he has always liked them.
Before the Evo
His first hillclimb car was a Mini with a two-litre Vauxhall engine. This was replaced by a fibreglass-bodied version with a spaceframe chassis and a Suzuki Hayabusa bike engine. Then came the even more eccentric car pictured above, which had the floor of a Subaru Justy 4×4, a Suzuki Swift GTi engine and “a Mini welded on top”.
Introducing the Evo
While competing in the Mini Justy, Allan discovered that DMW Motorsport of Queensland in Australia had managed to cram the engine and transmission of a Mitsubishi Evo into a Suzuki Swift. “I thought, if an Evo would go into a Swift, it would go into a Mini!”
Putting it all together
Inspired by DMW’s work, Allan bought a “third hand but unused” spaceframe chassis and fibreglass Mini panels built by Dave Kimberley of TDK Racing, and a Mitsubishi Evo 2 to use as a donor car. “I was told I should use an Evo 7 or later, but even a burnt-out 7 would have cost £10,000. I got an Evo 2 for £1,200 and started gluing it all together.”
The Mitsubishi engine was enlarged to 2.4 litres and runs on methanol rather than petrol. For the last few years it has produced around 450bhp at surprisingly low revs – Allan usually changes up a gear at 5,000rpm. A new engine with a higher compression ratio is being put together for 2019. Allan doesn’t think it will have much more outright power, but the mid-range performance should be even stronger than before.
In 2016, the Mini Evo weighed 790kg, which is light for a road car but heavy for a race car. The weight has since been reduced to 650kg, largely because Allan has taught himself how to make components out of carbonfibre. The first three items were the bonnet, bootlid and rear diffuser, but he has since developed lightweight body panels. He even built a carbonfibre exhaust system, but abandoned that when it set fire to the car’s floor, and has now gone back to aluminium.
The Mini Evo’s rear wing is also made of carbonfibre, though Allan didn’t make it. It was originally intended for one of the amazingly fast Raptor single-seaters, but turned out heavier than Raptor builder (and twice British Hillclimb Champion) Graeme Wight intended. Graeme thinks it’s wider than the Mini Evo needs, but Allan likes it.
The gearbox is a five-speed sequential competition unit manufactured by Albins, and is incredibly low-geared with very close ratios. Most standard road cars with manual gearboxes can be driven the entire length of almost any British hillclimb without going beyond third gear. The Mini Evo is already in fifth within seconds of leaving the start line.
Being very powerful and very short, the Mini Evo appears to behave like a wild animal on the tracks. Allan says that from the inside it actually feels very friendly, but this may be because of his experience on bikes. Bike racers aren’t scared of anything.
In hillclimbing, nobody talks about 0-62mph times. The measure of acceleration is how quickly you get from the start line to a timing point 64 feet up the track. If you travel that distance in two seconds from a standing start, you have achieved 1g, the same as if you drove your car off a cliff. Many specialist hillclimb cars can do this, but anything under 1.9 seconds is exceptional. Allan’s personal best is a dazzling 1.67 seconds.
The Mini Evo’s standing-start acceleration and cornering ability are helped by its Avon A15 slick tyres. Their compound is so soft that they would be torn apart in a ten-lap race, but since British hillclimb runs take less than a minute they can be used for a whole season before wearing out.
Nobody has ever said this is a pretty car, but Allan doesn’t have a problem with that. The Mini Evo is entirely self-funded, so he has no sponsors to impress, and, as he points out, making it look more attractive would not make it go any quicker. He also reckons that a car as silly as this (his own description) should also look silly.
Despite Allan’s deprecating remarks, the Mini Evo is actually a very serious race car. It is a regular class winner, and can even set similar times to some of the much lighter single-seaters competing at the same event.
How much of a Mini?
You might have started wondering how many ‘real’ Mini parts there are on the Mini Evo. The answer is: almost none. The door hinges are genuine, but on the car they were taken from they were actually used as bootlid hinges.